On Politics With Lisa Lerer: ‘A Revitalization of Democracy’

On Politics With Lisa Lerer: ‘A Revitalization of Democracy’

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

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Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation was a huge victory for Republicans — the culmination of decades of activism and advocacy for a conservative court.

I was curious how the other side was feeling.

To get a sense, I traveled to the Detroit suburbs and sat down with Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic candidate for governor in Michigan, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

We talked about Justice Kavanaugh, the midterms and why they believe American women “are on fire.” Here’s an abridged version of our conversation.

LISA: A lot of Democratic women felt Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation was a sign that the Senate didn’t believe Christine Blasey Ford and took that very personally. Was that the case for both of you?

GILLIBRAND: I bet if you polled America she was believed, but the really sad fact is she was believed and it doesn’t matter. So I’m looking at my colleagues and saying, you did believe her and you don’t care. Because that’s the real indictment of the Republican Party — they may well have believed her and they didn’t care.

WHITMER: I’m a sexual assault survivor and I’ve talked about it publicly, and you know, to watch that play out, for every survivor, it’s not a moment in your life, as Dr. Ford so eloquently explained. It’s something that’s a scar you carry for the rest of your life. And so every time you see this play out, so many women across our country are reliving their experience.

GILLIBRAND: The sad part about the last week was it was all about what does power look like. Who has it and who doesn’t. And it was really clear that Mitch McConnell had all the power, and he was able to set the rules, and set rules that weren’t fair.

McConnell called the opposition to Justice Kavanaugh a “great political gift” for Republicans.

GILLIBRAND: Oh, I disagree. I believe that women in America are on fire, and they are so motivated and so inspired to make sure their voices are heard. You’re seeing a transformation in the electorate about who’s turning out to vote, who’s mobilizing, who’s showing up at rallies and showing up at town halls. The energy that’s in the grass roots is real. It’s profound, it’s palpable.

WHITMER: I really believe this is a movement. I was a little concerned that maybe the intensity of the reaction would wave over time. I’ve not seen that for a second, and I’m in the state that put Trump in the White House. It’s growing.

Senator Susan Collins might disagree. She said on Sunday that she doesn’t believe that now Justice Kavanaugh assaulted Dr. Ford. What’s your reaction?

GILLIBRAND: You know, in the same way Senator Collins voted yes, Senator Murkowski voted no. So to see that split, even within the Republican Party among two moderate women, I think that was an affirmation of the basic premise of our conversation — that women feel these moments very differently, and they’re looking for different solutions.

But this is something that all 100 senators should be asked, to vote against Judge Kavanaugh, and it shouldn’t have been left to the women’s shoulders. It should never have been only the women who could possibly be the paradigms of goodness and grace and beacons of hope and life.

I want to ask you both about the atmosphere around the vote. The president said Democrats were “an angry mob.” Could Democrats face a backlash for how they handled the nomination?

GILLIBRAND: I’m not concerned that there will be a backlash, because what I’ve seen so far is just regular people standing up and demanding their voice be heard. I think it makes some people uncomfortable, but people are so angry and frustrated and concerned that they’re willing to protest.

WHITMER: People who are trying to hold onto their status in the upper echelons of decision-making in the country, they’re vilifying anyone who doesn’t see the world the same way, whether it’s Serena on the tennis court or the woman who’s outside locking arms with her fellow protesters. I think they’re missing the point of what’s happening in this country right now.

Has either of you ever been accosted at a restaurant or an airport?

GILLIBRAND: Oh, all the time. I think talking to the people who are angry is important. I do it every time. Because if you’re in public service, you serve everyone. But I do think the turmoil is necessary. And so it’s almost been a revitalization of democracy in a way that’s so powerful and so profound.

What’s the message the Democratic Party should be taking from the fight over Justice Kavanaugh?

GILLIBRAND: Women feel so devalued, so minimized, so dismissed. So I think that, to me, the message is, if you’re not listening to what’s going on in these women’s lives then you don’t care about them, and you don’t value them, and you will not be the standard-bearer for our party.

WHITMER: 2018 will show how the Democratic Party is growing and changing. If Stacey Abrams is governor in Georgia and I’m governor in Michigan and Michelle Lujan Grisham is governor in New Mexico——

GILLIBRAND: That’s different. That’s better. That’s going to show the power.

WHITMER: Those are three executives. A Latino woman and an African-American woman and me.

GILLIBRAND: A nice white woman here.

WHITMER: These executive races are going to change the dynamic of the Democratic Party.

GILLIBRAND: Women don’t get elected to governor, traditionally. So they’re going to show that not only do we run, but we get elected. There’s still massive institutional bias in all institutions against women and against diversity. That’s just a fact. The current political power structure is biased toward the traditional model of male leadership. I think that power infrastructure is somewhat uncomfortable with the shift that’s happening right below their feet.

I see it in all industries, and I think the Democratic Party is not immune. And so our job is to just keep elevating the voices of our constituents and making sure that they are heard, and making sure that these women candidates are given every opportunity to set their agendas.

By some accounts, the most interesting race this November is over a Senate seat in Texas. Manny Fernandez, who covers Texas for The Times, sent us this dispatch from Houston:

The tightest race in Texas is giving new meaning to identity politics.

Senator Ted Cruz is locked in a fierce bid for re-election against his Democratic rival, Representative Beto O’Rourke.

But it’s not quite Ted versus Beto. Technically, it’s Rafael versus Richard.

People’s first names are rarely a thing in politics. This race is the exception.

The incumbent, Rafael Edward Cruz, a Cuban-American who appeals to white conservatives, disliked the ring of Rafael and Rafaelito as a teenager and took on the less Hispanic-sounding Ted, a nickname of Edward. The challenger, Robert Francis O’Rourke, an Irish-American who appeals to white liberals, embraced the more Hispanic-sounding Beto, a Spanish nickname of Roberto, as a boy in El Paso.

That red sign reading “Beto’s” off Interstate 20 in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie? It’s not his new campaign office. It’s a popular Mexican restaurant.

The shorthand for the race has become Beto versus Cruz. But who uses which name, and how, when talking about the two candidates says a lot about which way they lean. Some of Mr. O’Rourke’s Republican critics deny him any nod to Latino culture and refer to him as Robert Francis O’Rourke. Some of Mr. Cruz’s Democratic critics deny him any move away from Latino culture and refer to him as Rafael Cruz.

The situation could have been far different for the headline writers of America. As Mr. Cruz described his boyhood nicknames in “A Time for Truth,” his 2015 biography: “Until I was thirteen, I was ‘Felito Cruz.’ The problem with that name was that it seemed to rhyme with every major corn chip on the market.”

That’s right: It could have been Beto versus Felito.

[Read Manny’s story on the first debate between Mr. Cruz and Mr. O’Rourke.]

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Where do voters stand right now on “the tightest race in Texas”? We’re trying to find out.

The Times’s Live Polls project is calling voters across the state tonight, and you can follow along here. What should you look out for?

• Will Mr. Cruz retain his modest edge? In poll after poll, Mr. Cruz’s lead has hovered in the single digits, occasionally drawing even with Mr. O’Rourke. Will that trend hold?

• How are NFL protests seen in football country? We’re asking people two questions about NFL protests — whether they support players kneeling, and whether they support their right to kneel. It will be interesting to see how a state that loves football, and that has longstanding support for personal freedoms, responds.

• See all those white dots? The Live Polls project documents every call, showing just how hard pollsters have to work to reach voters. (In our polling of Texas’ 31st District, for instance, we made 32,002 calls. Only 490 people spoke to us.) It helps explain why polls are better predictors of moods and trends than of winners and losers.

Watch the live results come in here. The polling will continue for the next few days.

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